Book reviews, June 1961, June 1961

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“Behind the Wheel,” by David McKay. 222 pp. 91/2 in x 61/4 in. (Nicholas Kaye Ltd., 194-200, Bishopsgate, London, EC2. 25s.)

This is the motoring life story of David McKay, who was badly afflicted with motor fever and commenced racing MGs in his native Australia, besides doing a bit of motoring journalism. The description of the author’s experiences in the Round Australia Trials, particularly the original Redex event of 1953, are enthralling. In these tough events McKay drove Austin A40 and A70, Simca Elysee and Porsche Super. He also had a crack at the 1958 Ampol Trial with a Ford Zephyr. McKay leaves his readers in no doubt whatsoever of the car-breaking terrain under which these “down under” trials are run and in future it is to such Safari-like events that truly publicity conscious Competition Departments must turn for the most convincing proof of the products they prepare.

When McKay and his wife decided to race in Europe in 1955 they travelled overland from Australia to England in a VW Combi. The account of their not inconsiderable adventures constitutes one of the best parts of “Behind the Wheel.” I like the reply they received from Volkswagen when inquiring what preparations they should make for the 30,000-mile trek : “Carry a couple of extra fan belts.” ! Certainly the VW stood up manfully to the treatment to which it was subjected but the reception afforded the travellers at Wolfsburg brings no credit to VW and was in very pungent contrast to the hospitality which they received at the hands of Mercedes-Benz in Stuttgart—luckily VW Motors in London made generous amends.

There are no frills about McKay’s writing and you go along with him, sharing his triumphs and frustrations, feeling a car slide under him, his hands grasping the Combi’s steering wheel. He brings into his story an intelligent Australian’s view of Europe and England (“It was almost impossible to stroll round the West End of London without being accosted by either prostitutes or perverts—as someone said, it was hard to know whether you were Arthur or Martha !”) and introduces such personalities as Fangio, Moss, Brabham and McLaren (rendered as ” Maclaren “).

Returning to Sydney in company with Alf Francis, Stan Elsworth and Leslie Mares mechanic Derek Edwards on the Rangitata, McKay raced a DB3S Aston Martin with which he eventually set the Australian Speed Record to 143.1 mph.

After this an ex-works DB3S, the 1956 Moss/Collins Le Mans car with 12-plug head and three double-choke 45-mm Webers, was raced under the Ampol banner and won seven races, being second in the eighth, in which McKay drove it.

Still sponsored by Ampol he flew to England to take delivery of a 3.4 Jaguar and before getting back did some European rallies for Rootes. That’s the kind of thing this book is packed with— motor cars, motor competitions, sufficient technicalities, and details of the way Australians live when they become professional racing drivers—believe me, it’s the life all right !

A happy idea is an Appendix giving pithy comments on the cars McKay has driven—MG, Austin, Mercedes-Benz, Singer, Peugeot, Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, Porsche, Sunbeam, Triumph, Jaguar, VW, Ford Zephyr, and Simca. There are lots of motoring books but there is room for this one.—WB.